The Divine Mercy Mission
Testimony of Fr. Franciszek Filipiec MIC
Our mission in Cameroon can be truly called The Divine Mercy mission.
We were first to experience the mercy of God who gives us life and His love, who guides us and forgives our transgressions. He also gives us another chance to start a new, more dignified life. I was going to work on missions with a deep conviction that God loves me and others. I was sent to serve on missions by the Church that also loves. It wants to proclaim the Good News of salvation to everyone and to show the way to happiness, fulfillment and freedom.
To go on a mission means to be sent on a task. The Marians took it literally and went to people living in Cameroon, Africa, in the midst of tropical forest, to people lost and forgotten in their little villages and settlements that are almost inaccessible at times.
Our first pastoral program included the visitation of all houses in 25 villages belonging to our mission’s area. It took us half a year to complete this visitation. Traveling by small dinghies and crossing marshlands, we were able to reach villages that no road led to. In the blasting sun and clouds of dust we went from one mud-hut to another, from one shanty to another. We met people who lived without tables and chairs, who slept on primitive bamboo beds or just on palm leaves on the ground. To cook their meals, they have three stones. They do not have any identification documents and live in a hoard, without marital vows. In an average village of 100 families, only 10 have been properly married.
The locals make their living by hunting and primitive farming of manioc and corn, if they are lucky enough to clean up a small piece of the tropical forest that tries to quickly take over, due to constant high humidity and frequent rains.
Our visits brought out in us the desire to do works of mercy for people who desperately needed help. Having considered our options, we started two programs: social assistance and pastoral care. Translated into real actions, it meant helping to dig wells, build pirogues (canoes), and forming catechists to become our helpers in reaching people with evangelization. We also organized prayer groups in villages. We gave them religious education lessons and taught them simple prayers, including the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This prayer was accepted fast because it contains Christ’s promises.
Our second visit and closer acquaintance with people began accidentally because of the drums that we heard every night. We asked the locals what this nightlong noise was all about. They told us it was a farewell to the deceased. Indeed, a lot of people died around this time. So, along with a group of religious sisters who were also nurses, we began our second visitation of houses to attend the sick. On the road, we saw women fishing. They were spending almost half a day in marshes with little kids tied to their backs. Thus we knew where their rheumatism was coming from. We were looking at people that no one ever gave any help. Especially bad was the situation of the abandoned elderly, sick with elephantiasis caused by untreated bites of an African fly called “fileria” and of the cripples with distorted limbs, because they failed to get preventive shots. There were also people sick with chronic malaria that the disease stripped of clarity of mind. There were other people in great need of surgical intervention or hospital treatment. During this second visit, we counted as many as 120 people requiring immediate medical attention. For 11 handicapped people, we purchased wheelchairs; we took several dozen people to a hospital for surgery; and we provided food for some abandoned old folks.
Our third trip took us even further into the tropical forest. We visited the Pygmies. Their entire livelihood comes from hunting. They live in shanties made out of branches and grass. When the hunting season comes, they leave their abodes and go deep into the forest, staying there for several months. When they return and settle down near a village, the villagers use them for fieldwork; Pygmies themselves do not own any land. We weren’t able to help them a lot, but we provided some clothing, soap, salt, and a little food. However, we managed to send a few of their children to school. Our frequent visits to those families make those people feel freer. We hope that they will be able to build their own village and start a more dignified life.
We also visited the local prison. It contains about 300 inmates, half of which stay there for almost a yea, without trial. Most often they were put in prison for fights, for doing “magic”, or because of their relatives’ jealousy and envy. Many of them steal for they do not have any understanding and regard for somebody else’s property. However, most of them are there because they have been accused of sorcery and quackery. That’s exactly where their troubles lie: they first invent evil spirits, and then they get trapped in their own nets. They also need mercy. We sent them some food and bailed out some of the wrongly imprisoned. The others still wait for mercy, forgiveness, and conversion.
After our “reconnaissance” visits people began to come to us. They come because we managed to get them organized a little. They come to get formation and they come for mercy. However, the mercy we offer does not have the form of gifts, but of formation of their consciences and attitude. Together with a group of leaders and catechists, we organize courses, sessions, and conferences. We embrace them with a pastoral program and prepare them for sacraments.
And this is also how our pilgrimages started out. First, we went to the Marian grotto with the local bishop. Then the young joined us. For the Jubilee Year of 2000 there were 2000 participants in our pilgrimage. Our last trip was 400 km long. Almost 400 people went with us under the blazing sun and in clouds of dust on a more than two-week long pilgrimage. The roadside villages welcomed all pilgrims and were able to provide them with food and drink. The young people gave witness everywhere by singing songs that were often composed of formulas of the faith and sacraments taken out of the catechism.
When we brought to our mission the image of the Merciful Jesus that has been blessed by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, pilgrimages started to come to our mission, too.
On April 18, 2004 – Divine Mercy Sunday – Bishop Jan Ozga enthroned the image of the Merciful Jesus and proclaimed our church the Regional Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
At our Shrine we organize celebrations and formation sessions for every group in the parish and diocese. We would also like to perform works of mercy, including our Mercy Center – called a FOYER – where we would provide formation and train young people, especially the poor, the crippled, and the sick with AIDS for independent living. This Center will provide formation also for all those who would come to the Shrine.
In the realization of all of our projects we conform to the standing regulations, which demand 30% local participation, while the remaining 70% may be sought outside because of the region’s extreme poverty.